Limbo for the serious 007 fan awaiting real news

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a weird time to be a James Bond fan.

A typical social media day for a 007 fan consists of the following:

–The latest speculation who will be the next James Bond, whether it be (in alphabetical order) Henry Cavill, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston, Aidan Turner and who knows who else.

This gets repackaged in various ways. When the various actors are out promoting their latest movie or television shows, they get asked about Bond and that becomes the story instead. Or, to attract clicks, an outlet will write about why some possible Bonds shouldn’t get the role. Or, British bookies adjust their odds for the next 007 and stories get generated.

Whatever. It’s not real news.

–A notification that today is either the anniversary of a birth date of a Bond actor or crew member or the annivesary of the death of a Bond actor or crew member.

–An obituary of a Bond actor or crew member, such as the passing of four-time 007 director Guy Hamilton.

There’s an odd effect to all this. For the serious fan, one can’t excited about the future Bond actor speculation. At this point, we don’t even know there’s a vacancy. Yeah, Daniel Craig talked in some interviews like he was ready to go but nobody *really knows*. And none of the speculative stories has any *actual information.*

Meanwhile, the barrage of the latter two social media postings (anniversaries and obituaries) keep pushing fans to look backward, rather than forward. It’s like “Throwback Thursday” every day.

The obituaries are important, because they recognize the accomplishments of those who can no longer speak for themselves. The anniversaries have their place but in the absence of actual news, they get more attention than they should.

In terms of Bond 25, we probably won’t get any real news until Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer either signs a new contract with Sony Pictures or selects a new studio to release the next 007 film. Afterall, you can’t have a release date until there’s a studio to release it. And MGM doesn’t have the resources to do so by itself.

So, for now, Bond fans are in for a form of limbo. The future is foggy while what little hard information is out there pulls attention backward instead of forward.

 

The men who would be Napoleon Solo

"I'm ready for my comeback, Mr. DeMille."

“I’m ready for my comeback, Mr. DeMille.”


In 35 years or so of ATTEMPTED REVIVALS OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., one recurring problem has been who to cast as Napoleon Solo, the title character.

Solo was created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming and developed by Sam Rolfe, who created most everything else about the 1964-68 television series. Obviously, it’s a pivotal role. Here’s a look at a partial list.

The original, Robert Vaughn: Around 1976-77, producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts enlisted Sam Rolfe to write a TV-movie that would bring back U.N.C.L.E. Rolfe’s script, called The Malthusian Affair, had a somewhat older, but still active, Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The plan was to bring back Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, working with some new agents. The project never got further than the script stage.

A few years later, in the early 1980s, Danny Biederman and Robert Short attempted a theatrical movie version. Their plan, also, was to have the original stars. But the producers ultimately couldn’t convince a studio. Vaughn and McCallum did reprise the roles in a 1983 made-for-television movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., that deliberately depicted Solo as retired and straining to regain his old form. Vaughn turned 50 during filming.

George Clooney: In 2010-11, George Clooney appeared to be the choice of director Steven Soderbergh, who said he had committed to a new U.N.C.L.E. movie. It was easy to understand. The pair had worked a number of times together. Eventually, though, Clooney, owing to health issues, took his name out of the running. By this point, Clooney was the same age as Vaughn was in The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bradley Cooper: The actor, transitioning from movies such as The Hangover to more serious fare such as Silver Linings Playbook, was reported to be the new Solo for a time after Clooney’s departure. Looking back, it’s hard to determine whether this was really happening or an attempt by agents and/or publicists to gain their client attention. Regardless, Cooper was soon out and his career has been on the rise since.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender


Michael Fassbender: Soderbergh reportedly proposed Michael Fassbender to Warner Bros. as a Solo contender. Fassbender had shown flashes of a James Bond while playing a young Magneto in a 2011 X-Men movie. Soderbergh had also cast Fassbender in a spy movie called Haywire.

According to various accounts, Warner Bros. didn’t like the choice because of Fassbender’s lack of star power. Almost immediately, Fassbender’s star power began to rise but it was too late.

Channing Tatum: Soderbergh took a look at Channing Tatum, another actor he had worked with (both Haywire and Magic Mike, a film about male strippers). His football player build was considerably different than the 1964-68 original television series. Soderbergh exited the project before anything could happen Solo-wise with Tatum. Tatum, meanwhile, also sees his star power rise. The actor also ended up working with Soderbergh one more time in Side Effects, a 2013 movie.

Tom Cruise: At the end of 2011, Warner Bros. assigned U.N.C.L.E. to director Guy Ritchie after Soderbergh’s departure. Cruise’s name didn’t emerge as a potential Solo until early in 2013. Like Clooney, a Cruise Solo would be notably older than the original version of Solo. According to the Deadline entertainment news Web site, Cruise exited U.N.C.L.E. negotiations to concentrate on a fifth Mission: Impossible movie.

It remains to be seen who will show up on this list next.

UPDATE (June 8): It didn’t take long to wait. On May 28, Variety reported that Henry Cavill, star of Man of Steel, was in talks to play Solo. Cavill, while promoting the 2013 Superman movie, said in early June during interviews that he had committed to playing the U.N.C.L.E. ace agent for his next project. Meanwhile, actor Armie Hammer, while promoting Walt Disney Co.’s The Lone Ranger, said on Australian television he’d be working with Cavill on the movie.

The reverse Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

Channing Tatum: one-time Solo contender, now hot Hollywood property

Channing Tatum: one-time Solo contender, now hot Hollywood property

We’ve posted before about how there’s a CURSE that seems to prevent new versions of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from becoming reality. But there also seems to be a reverse curse — actors who get mentioned as leads in a new U.N.C.L.E. but don’t end up in the roles do really, really well.

All of this is undoubtedly coincidence but consider:

George Clooney: The actor was director Steven Soderbergh’s first choice to play Napoleon Solo for an aborted U.N.C.L.E. project. The two had worked together multiple times but Clooney took his name out of the running, in part because he wasn’t up to the physical demands of the role. He ends up picking up an Oscar as one of the producers of Argo after that 2012 film received the Best Picture Academy Award.

Bradley Cooper Cooper was supposedly offered the role of Napoleon Solo after Clooney’s exit. At the time, he was seen as the star of comedies such as The Hangover that didn’t have a lot of content. Now, he’s viewed as a Serious Actor (R) after getting a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook.

Michael Fassbender: There were multiple stories that Soderbergh suggested Michael Fassbender to play Napoleon Solo after Clooney and Cooper faded from the scene. Supposedly, Warner Bros. vetoed the choice because Fassbender wasn’t considered a star. Now, the German-Irish actor is considered a star.

Channing Tatum: The actor, who resembles a football linebacker, also was mentioned before Soderbergh finally quit his U.N.C.L.E. project. Last year, Paramount abruptly pulled GI Joe: Retaliation from release. The story at the time was the studio needed time to add 3-D effects. But the Deadline: Hollywood Web site reported the real reason was the need to re-shoot scenes so Tatum’s character wouldn’t get killed off because the studio brass had concluded he was now a star. Studios don’t reschedule big, expensive movies lightly. (UPDATE, March 31: If there were reshoots, well, Channing’s character doesn’t exactly come out whole, but he does take up a lot of the early part of the movie. GI Joe 2 also was the top film at the U.S. box office during Easter weekend.)

Joel Kinnaman: this actor was Soderbergh’s choice at one point to play Illya Kuryakin, but got vetoed by Warner Bros. because, you guessed it, he wasn’t considered a star. Subsequently, he was cast in the lead role in an upcoming remake of RoboCop. Apparently, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which also co-owns the 007 franchise, was willing to take a chance where Warner Bros. was not. MGM, though, hedged its bet by including Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman in the cast.

Soderbergh confirms U.N.C.L.E. exit concerned budget

Director Steven Soderbergh is making the rounds to publicize his new movie Haywire. In an interview with the Star-Ledger of Newark, he also confirmed he departed a planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in a disagreement with Warner Bros. about the project’s budget.

“(W)e were going back and forth and, in the end, I pushed them …and the studio said, ‘Well, if you’re really going to push us to answer now, the answer is no.’”

(snip)
“Frankly, I think there’s a piece of the narrative missing here, on their side, because the difference between their number and my number was not that big.”

No additional details were mentioned. Last year, The Playlist Web site reported that Warner Bros. offered a $60 million budget for the movie, and the director and studio had disagreements over casting.

Haywire, which hit theaters on Jan. 20, has a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, reportedly Soderbergh’s choice for Napoleon Solo after George Clooney turned it down, and Channing Tatum, who had been mentioned as a possible Solo but didn’t really strike us as a great choice.

UPDATE: Haywire finished No. 5 at the U.S. box office this week. CLICK HERE for more details.

11 things that went wrong with the U.N.C.L.E. project

For one last time, in honor of Napoleon Solo’s No. 11 U.N.C.L.E. badge, we have an 11-themed post, this time the 11 things that went wrong with the now-crashed movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

1. An indecisive studio. Warner Bros. picked up the rights to U.N.C.L.E. when its parent company, Time Warner, acquired Ted Turner’s media empire. (It was part of the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film library that Turner bought in the mid 1980s.) The studio hasn’t been able to pull the trigger on a movie version for two decades. That tendency toward indecision will figure into other of the 11 reasons.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s farewell tour. In 2010, Soderbergh, who comes across as a thoughtful filmmaker, became involved with the project and this seemed to be good news. But he also wanted to either retire at a young age (he turns 50 in 2013) or at the very least take a long break. And he absolutely wanted to finish up before the end of 2012. That meant a lack of flexibility — which also influenced other of the 11 reasons.

3. Soderbergh’s friend, George Clooney. Because it was part of his farewell tour, it now appears it was Soderbergh’s idea that old pal George Clooney, 50, play Napoleon Solo.

4. Clooney’s bad back. But Clooney had a bad back due to a an injury in 2004. So even if he felt like coloring his hair, he wasn’t up to doing an action movie. So he bowed out.

5. The economy. It’s not very strong and that’s affecting movie studios, causing them to trim budgets and making them even more risk adverse.

6. Warner Bros.’s reaction to Soderbergh’s choices. According to THE PLAYLIST WEB SITE, Soderbergh’s next choices were Michael Fassbender as Solo and Joel Kinnaman as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin. Warners apparently had a mixed reaction. They weren’t sure about the actors for U.N.C.L.E. but were more than willing to cast them in prominent roles in other movies.

7. Enter: Johnny Depp. The actor’s Lone Ranger movie was temporarily canceled at Disney (partly because of, you guessed it, the economy). So he was looking for something to do. He thought it might be rather fun to play Kuryakin. Warner Bros. liked that idea.

8. Exit: Johnny Depp. Lone Ranger movie back, so sorry, Depp (figuratively) told Warner Bros. Now there was no Fassbender or Kinnaman, either.

9. Warner Bros and Soderbergh go back and forth. Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, who knows who else had their names bandied about. The Playlist said Warner Bros. only wanted a a $60 million budget, which would include $5 million the studio spent on other proposed versions. Soderbergh, who wants to finish up with a Liberace made-for-cable-television movie for HBO, evidently had enough.

10. There’s a curse on this project. Or hadn’t you heard that?

11. Fans, who should have known better, forgetting reasons 1 and 10. That would be us, or at least we would be at the head of that line.

Yet another 11 questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Once again, in honor of Napoleon Solo’s U.N.C.L.E. badge number 11, here are 11 questions about the newest developments in trying to bring The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to movie screens.

1. Are they really considering Channing Tatum to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? That’s what the Deadline entertainment new Web site REPORTED ON NOV. 14. Deadline generally has a good track record on scoops, including a few concerning Skyfall, the James Bond movie now in production. Deadline was very careful to say there was “no offer yet.”

2. How *might* he be right for the role? Well he fits the archetype of Solo being dark and according to his IMDB.COM biography, Tatum is 31, the same age Robert Vaughn was when he filmed the U.N.C.L.E. pilot in late 1963.

3. And why might he not be right for the role? Well, if you look at THE PHOTO, the guy looks like a football linebacker, especially with that thick neck.

4. What’s wrong with that? As originally conceived, Solo (and fellow agent Illya Kuryakin) were supposed to be somewhat average in appearance. Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 show, said in a 1997 interview (portions of which appear on the DVD set for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series) that most TV series of the era featured “big, ballsy men” and he was looking to do something different. Women fans of the show will tell you there was nothing average about Solo or Kuryakin. But they were both under 6-foot-tall. And neither character remotely looked like a football player.

5. So what does Tatum have going for him? He has already worked twice for director Steven Soderbergh, slated to helm the U.N.C.L.E. movie: in Haywire, Soderbergh’s spy movie about a woman operative who vows revenge when she’s doubled crossed (coming to theaters in January) and in Magic Mike, a drama about male strippers, that’s due out next summer.

6. Why is that important? If Soderbergh likes an actor, he generally likes to work with him or her again. The first actor mentioned for Solo was George Clooney, who worked with Soderbergh several times, including the three “Ocean’s” movies (Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, etc.). Another actor in the U.N.C.L.E. mix was Michael Fassbender, who’s also in Haywire.

7. So what do you think? Our initial reaction was akin to how Bugs Bunny acts during the 3:00 to 3:08 mark of this cartoon:

8. Seriously? Well, we rarely get the opportunity to include a Bugs Bunny cartoon in a post, so you’ve got to go for it.

9. Oh, come on now. Is is it really that bad? Not necessarily but there’s a lot to think about.

10. Such as? On the one hand, we’re remembering when casting seemed to come out of left field but worked. Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie. Robert Downey Jr. in 2008’s Iron Man. We weren’t familar at all with Tobey Maguire before he played Spider-Man in films that came out in 2002, 2004 and 2007, but thought he was terrific. Still, we also remember the 2002 version of I Spy, which was horrible. Or the 1996 version of Mission: Impossible that turned Jim Phelps into a villain as part of a Tom Cruise ego trip.

11. So what’s the bottom line, Sherlock? You can’t really critique something until there’s actually something to critique. Soderbergh is a good director and he has actually watched a lot of episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. preparing for this movie. Is that enough? That’s a question that can’t be answered yet.

Could Johnny Depp wreck U.N.C.L.E. movie?

“Have our little plans gone askew?”

–Thrush villain Victor Marton (Vincent Price) in The Foxes and Hounds Affair

If Steven Soderbergh’s planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. crashes without reaching production, it may be due to a chain reaction involving Johnny Depp. At least, that’s the impression you getting reading between the lines of a POST ON THE PLAYLIST WEB SITE.

Playlist first SAID IN SEPTEMBER that Soderbergh’s first choices to play U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the lead characters of the 1964-68 television series, were Michael Fassbender and Joel Kinnaman. In the new post on Nov. 9, the Playlist says Warner Bros. had been on board with those choices. The plot thickened, however.

The monkey wrench came however when “The Lone Ranger” had fell into budget problems at Disney. In the interim, Johnny Depp read the Scott Z. Burns-penned (U.N.C.L.E.) script and wanted to take the Ilya (sic) role. WB were over the moon and essentially let it be known that Soderbergh could essentially cast anyone in the lead with a huge star like Depp in co-starring role.

Of course, after a little budget cutting, The Lone Ranger was again given a green light and Depp was no longer interested in U.N.C.L.E. In the interim, according to the Playlist, Fassbender and Kinnaman moved onto other projects. In effect, Depp’s flirtation with taking on the role made famous by David McCallum cost pre-production time for the U.N.C.L.E. project.

More complications, according to the account: the studio now wanted Matt Damon to star, except he’s busy.

WB pushed to shoot the (U.N.C.L.E.) film the following year, in early 2013 with Damon in the lead, but Soderbergh – who definitely wants to make the Liberace biopic “Behind The Candelabra” his last film for at least the foreseeable future — held his ground.

Soderbergh is supposed to direct the Liberace project, which will be shown on HBO, around mid-2012. Based on the Playlist account, the clock *appears* to be ticking. If Soderbergh and Warners can’t get leads cast *relatively soon* it may be hard to get an U.N.C.L.E. movie in production in time for Soderbergh to do it. And, as of now, there’s no Kuryakin and no Solo, played by Robert Vaughn in the television series.

Thus, Depp’s involvement may prove to be the catalyst that eventually runs wrecks an U.N.C.L.E. movie before it starts. That’s certainly the case if — and we stress that word — Soderbergh departs. Development likely would start all over again from scratch. We’ll see.